Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Maud in the Classroom

We finished and complemented our Jane Eyre study with a brief look at the poem "Maud Muller," comparing and contrasting the setting, scene and themes.  Those who read this blog from time to time  may know that I have a personal connection to Maud; I have long looked forward to introducing the poem to a great class. Yesterday was the day. It was a simple lesson, which the students enjoyed, and it gave me insight into some ways my students learn.

Basically the lesson was a close reading of "Maud Muller." I began by reading the entire poem aloud (they were to read it at home before class) and initiated a discussion of the story arc and themes of the poem, compared it to the story and themes of Jane Eyre in literary and historical context, and finished with a discussion of literary techniques and poetical form. The rhymed couplets and even rhythm in Maud are perfect for quick classroom study, and a fine form to study before Hamlet, our next read.

When we completed all that, I asked, "Is it easy or difficult to write in rhymed couplets?"

"Easy," said He-Who-Always-Answers-First.

How easily the young fall into that old trap!  This was the perfect set-up for a poetry-writing lesson. He quickly recanted, but it was too late. Ha!

Each student was asked to write 3 pairs of rhyming couplets on Jane Eyre. This "easy" lesson was, in fact, easy for some, but quite difficult for others.  I found that the students who struggle with clear prose write beautiful poetry, and the student with the best prose barely eked out the 6 lines. The Well-Coiffed-One stunned me with rhymed, unexpected, polysyllabic words which worked wonderfully. The students' work, read aloud, lead to a refresher lesson on assonance. There were quite a few assy-thingummys* in the work of the Usual Suspect, which made us wonder about the ease of rhyme...or not.

As in any class, talents vary. Discovering those talents is the first step in providing students with an opportunity to use and enhance them, and provides me with another means to enhance my skills in the gentle art of assessment.

* cf. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Edmund seems unfamiliar with assonance, calling it an "assy-thingummy."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Does Jane Err?

Our class discussion of Jane Eyre has been lively, but not as brutal to the heroine of the story as it was for poor Miss Manette in Tale of Two Cities. Jane, the Usual Suspect points out, does many stupid things (including a faint or two!), but he does not dislike her.

We are using the excellent Lost Tools of Writing along with our literature studies, which often requires that we consider the choices our characters make as an essay prompt. This is particularly effective, as there are always plenty of poor decisions made by the characters in any great novel. Jane Eyre is no exception, and, in fact, if you hear the students discuss it, she makes more mistakes than any character in the western canon. According to them, Jane does indeed err.

Part discussion, part exercise, finding flaw in a character's actions is entertaining fodder for discussion and argument. Students asked:

Should Jane have married Rochester? Should she have left Thornfield? Should she have walked far? Should she have knocked on a door and sought help (this particular moment of indecision nearly spoiled the novel for some students)? Should she have taken her jewels when she left? Should she have married St. John? 

Fortunately for Jane, the questions were not limited to her character. Students considered the actions of Rochester as well, from his decision in youth to marry Bertha, to his hiring a governess for Adele, to his care and keeping of a mad wife, and finally to his proposal and near bigamous marriage to Jane. Certainly, Jane is not alone in her errors.

Other interesting points for discussion were atmosphere, spirituality, Jane's odd art (what's up with that, really?), beauty, ugliness, clothing, and more. A favorite scene, students said, is Rochester's impersonation of the Gypsy fortune teller, which, as several pointed out, could have been left out of the story.  But, they realized through discussion, this scene provides the reader with the only real view of Jane from a perspective outside of herself. Was Rochester right to do this to Jane? If we consider that Bronte, through Rochester, does this for the sake of the reader, well, yes. And doesn't it give us some insight into Rochester's character, too? Is he just teasing her?

Like TTC, I suspect this is a novel which will stick with us through the rest of the year, prompting comparisons and inspiring deeper reading.

Between novels, we take a look at poetry. Next week, the students are reading Whittier's Maud Muller...

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